www.schnews.org.uk”>SchNEWS, over five hundred people were arrested during 1994 alone, the first year of the POA, mostly for the less serious provisions of the Act. The POA has been used as a weapon to criminalise elements of protest which had previously been considered legal, to enable the police to arrest those expressing dissent but, often, not to pursue serious charges against them in court. Adding conspiracy charges to magistrates court offences greatly increases the cost of the prosecution because the case has to be elevated to the Crown Court and tried before a jury, despite the fact that the possible sentences remain the same as in the magistrates court. It often, also, creates a perception that the charges are more serious than they are, justifying greater police expenditure on prosecutions thereby facilitating and legitimising greater repression. Moreover, it invariably lengthens the trial and puts more strain on the defendants. The use of conspiracy charges in connection with the less serious parts of Public Order Act is often mistrusted by the courts. In summer 2008, Sussex Police attempted to prosecute five anti-arms campaigners who had locked themselves to the EDO MBM factory in Brighton (see Corporate Watch's www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3199”> Campaign Spotlight for more on Smash EDO), with conspiracy to aggravated trespass. The judge struck out the charge on the grounds that it was “oppressive” and not in the public interest. Similarly, the organisers of a free-party near Crawley who the police attempted to prosecute for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance, despite the fact that they were unable to turn on the sound system before they were arrested, had their case thrown out of court. However, the courts appear to be taking the Ratcliffe 26's charges seriously, for now. One wonders whether this is because of the obviously political nature of the trial, the huge amounts of money already expended and the overt interest of NETCU. At the first hearings the judge's main concerns appear to have been that the defendants might run a defence of 'necessity', as in the case of the six Greenpeace activists who were charged with criminal damage at Kingsnorth and successfully argued necessity, due to the need to combat climate change, in September 2008. Well, we wouldn't want to bring politics into the court room, now, would we? The Ratcliffe 26 are set to appear in court again, to enter pleas, on 18th February next year.